Just the Tarot Posts

The Two of Cups, Low Libidos, and Smoldering Men in Skirts

A brief look at the myths and expectations surrounding American sexuality.

It’s always kind of fun – and illuminating – to identify a cultural myth.  Cultural myths are strong beliefs and assumptions that we have about our societies or countries which are almost totally unsupported by facts.  But we still believe them.

I remember that my first experience in cultural, “myth busting,” concerned monogamy.  Most Americans hold a very strong faith in the notion that everyone has a Soul Mate, that we will eventually meet that Soul Mate, and that we will live happily ever after when that happens.  But, of course, our divorce rate has held steady at 45 to 50% for decades, so it’s pretty obvious that the standard monogamy model isn’t working out very well for at least half of us.  Nonetheless, we keep getting married.  And divorced.  And married.  And divorced.

It was such a liberating experience for me to finally get some perspective on that issue and be able to say, “Oh . . . it’s just bullshit.  I’m not a failure and all of my friends who’ve been divorced aren’t failures.  The model is flawed.  Happily Ever After Marriage for everyone is a cultural myth.”

Many cultural myths are relatively harmless exercises in ego.  Germans, for instance, have long considered themselves to be an extremely clean and fastidious people.  Yet, some polling in the 1970s found that they’re the least likely of all Europeans to change their underwear on a regular basis.  Italian men have always been seen as red hot lovers, but Italian women report that they have a dreadfully low rate of orgasm during sex.  The British think of themselves as wonderfully sophisticated but . . . you know . . . blood pudding and kidney pies?  Really?

Other cultural myths are darker and more disturbing.  Almost 50% of the Japanese identify as Buddhists, a religion which teaches the sacredness of all sentient beings.  That hasn’t prevented their culture from ruthlessly hunting down and slaughtering whales and dolphins, which are some of the most sentient beings on the earth.  A majority of Americans claim to follow the teachings of Jesus, which are all about love and compassion, but we’re one of the most violent societies in the world and half of us voted for Donald Trump.  In both cases, our cultural myths have allowed us to deny and rationalize our actual behavior.  “We’re not really like that.”

Yes, we are.

One of the most important things about cultural myths is that they carry with them a set of unconscious expectations.  We think of them, not just as the way things ARE, but as the way things OUGHT TO BE.   And when we feel that we haven’t lived up to those sets of expectations, we beat the hell out of ourselves psychologically.  In the example of monogamy, for instance, we have the expectation that our marriages OUGHT to succeed and, when they don’t, we feel like miserable failures.  If we can step back from that a little bit and realize that about half of all marriages DON’T last, then it removes the sense of personal failure.

It’s the expectations that are killing us, not the reality.

All of which is offered as an explanation for why my radar started pinging this week when I ran across this article about American sexuality.  Or, more specifically, American libido, also known as, “sex drive.”  Over 26% of American adults reported that they hadn’t had sex in the previous year.  Not even once.

The first thought, of course, is, “Oh, the damned pandemic.”  We’ve all been isolated so we couldn’t have as much sex.  Not true.  In 2018, the percentage of sexless Americans was 24% and in 2016 it was 23%.  So right around 1 in 4 of us are NOT getting any sugar and haven’t been for years. 

 It’s probably a higher number than that, simply because of the nature of the male ego.  If you ask a normal male if he’s gotten laid in the last year his immediate response is going to be, “Oh, yeah.  Lots of times.  Women are crazy about me.  Just can’t get enough.  I’m worn out from it, I tell ya.”

Not.

I’m tagging this as evidence of a cultural myth because Americans think of ourselves as being a HIGHLY sexual culture.  In so many ways we become obsessed with our bodies, not just to be healthy, but to make them more attractive sexually.  We spend millions of dollars every year on clothing and gym fees so that we can look as tight and sexy as possible.  Our pornography industry is booming.  Our movies and television shows and books are replete with sexual references and innuendo.  Our most popular comedians would be at a loss for words if they couldn’t rap about sex. 

Just looking at the surface of our culture, we’d have to conclude that Americans LOVE sex.  We think about it and talk about it and joke about it almost constantly.  We sell hundreds of books and videos on how to be better lovers and keep our partners so satisfied that they’ll melt into the mattress when we’re through making love.

But then we look at those statistics again.  One quarter of Americans aren’t having sex at all.  This isn’t some sexual blip that’s caused by the baby boomers getting older, either.  The people who aren’t having sex are young, middle aged, old, Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, the full spectrum.

Does it matter?  

It’s an interesting question because, as one sex researcher put it, “Low libido is only a problem if you think it’s a problem.”  The traditional approach has been to view it as a problem from the beginning and then look for the source of the problem, which is the real problem. What’s CAUSING your lack of libido?  Is it high blood pressure, low blood pressure, anxiety, depression, lack of exercise, obesity, sexual dysfunction, constant fatigue?  

But suppose it’s none of the above and a lot of Americans just don’t much like sex.  Is that a problem?

Not in and of itself.  If we can become dispassionate enough to look at having sex as merely a human activity, much like jogging or playing golf, then it’s no problem at all.  Some people like to get out and smack their balls around the old course and others don’t.  No problem.

It’s when we get into the expectations that go along with the cultural myth that we begin to encounter the, “problems.”  Historically, most of these libido studies have been aimed squarely at women.  There is a sort of an underlying assumption that all healthy, normal males like to fuck like bunnies under a full moon all the time and – if their wives and girlfriends aren’t willing to accommodate them –  that’s a problem.  The woman’s problem.

Realistically, yes, it is a problem when one romantic partner has a high sex drive and the other partner has a very low sex drive, but it has nothing to do with gender.  And it’s a problem that could be avoided by some honest discussion going into the relationship.  “Okay, I like sex a LOT and you don’t like it much at all.  What are we going to do about that?  Do we have an open marriage?  Is it okay for us to get our needs met outside of the relationship?  Is this a big enough problem that we just shouldn’t be together at all?”  

The basic expectation here is that all sex drives are created equal and that most of them are set on, “high.”  Therefore, if I like sex more than you like sex, then there’s obviously something wrong with you, like maybe you’re frigid.  Or, flipping that, maybe there’s something wrong with me, because I like sex too much and I must be some kind of a pervert.

There’s also a built in expectation that, somehow, everyone else must be having sex – really good sex – pretty much constantly and, since we’re not, there must be something dreadfully wrong with us.  We must be . . . uh, oh . . . sexually unattractive.  Or too fat.  Or too skinny.  Or too shy.  Or too outgoing.  Or too young.  Or too old.  Or our breasts aren’t perky enough or our dicks aren’t big enough.  Or maybe we’re just ugly and we dress funny.  

Again, if we can step back from that and realize that 1 out of every 4 people we meet apparently don’t have any sexual desire at all – or so little desire that it’s not even worth pursuing – then we can jettison all of those negative self images.  Perhaps, just perhaps, that person who doesn’t find us attractive doesn’t find ANYONE attractive.  

Hmmm . . .

The Two of Cups shows a couple staring deeply into each other’s eyes and the man’s hand reaching out to touch the woman.  A lion, the symbol of power and sensuality, hovers between them in the air and we can almost feel the sexual attraction smoldering like an ember that’s about to burst into flames.

Woof.  Smolder, smolder.

But suppose she’s looking at him and thinking, “What kind of a guy wears a skirt?”  Or he’s looking at her and thinking, “If she’s not going to drink her wine, maybe I could have it.”

Maybe they haven’t had sex in over a year and they don’t want to have it now.

As a society, we’ve made great strides in realizing that there’s nothing wrong with sex.  We pretty much accept it, in all of its amazing varieties, as perfectly normal and healthy, magical and fun.

We have a ways to go, though, in accepting that, while there’s nothing wrong with sex, there isn’t necessarily anything right with sex, either.  There’s no, “norm,” that we all have to meet, no perfect amount of sex that we’re supposed to have, no particular number of notches we’re supposed to cut into our bedposts to show that we’re, “healthy, well adjusted human beings.”  And judging our personal worth by the number of bed partners we have is insane.

If we have an extremely high sex drive, that’s okay.  If we have an extremely low sex drive, that’s okay, too.  It’s only a problem if we think it’s a problem. 

Everything else is just a myth.

The Nine of Wands, Buddhist Emotions, and Having Sex While We’re Water Skiing

On the emotional nature of ideas.

In the Tarot, each suit of the minor arcana represents a different realm of the human experience.  Cups represent emotions, pentacles are physical possessions, swords are energy, and wands are the intellectual realm of ideas.

At first glance, we’d hardly associate the Nine of Wands with ideas at all.  A man stands there clutching a wand, a fearful, almost paranoid look on his face, and a bandage tied around his forehead.  He looks like he came out on the losing end of a bar fight much more than he looks like he’s swarming with ideas.

When we  stop for a moment and ponder just exactly what ideas really are, though, the card starts to make sense.  We all have thoughts – a  LOT of them – from the moment that we wake up in the morning until the moment that we fall asleep.  Some meditators call our thoughts, “the mind stream,” because they feel like an endless stream constantly rushing along from one point to the next to the next.

And, let’s face it – many, if not most of them, really aren’t worth much.  The Buddhists talk about, “monkey mind,” which basically means that our minds are like monkeys jumping randomly from one branch to another, with no particular order or meaning.  Rather than having truly great thoughts, our thoughts are more like:

-did I turn off the coffee pot?

-why is the cat crying?

-remember to buy more cat food.

-what am I making for dinner tonight?

– should I wear brown socks?

-who invented toast?

-I think I’m a little hung over.

-where’s the alka seltzer?

-remember to buy alka seltzer when you get the cat food.

All of those thoughts occur in mere seconds and they go on like that all day, every day.  Most of our thoughts, then, are just immediate, fleeting responses to whatever’s happening in our environments at any given moment.

There are, of course, more organized thoughts that we generate with problem solving activities.  That’s where we sit down and really concentrate on how we’re going to get from point A to point B, how we’re going to get through work activities or budget enough money to pay the rent.  How to organize our shopping lists and plan meals before we go to the grocery store.  What we’re going to say at a business presentation and how to prioritize the points that we want to make.

Yet another type of thought is what we could call intuition, where an idea or a notion just seems to pop up out of nowhere.  We may be shocked or surprised or delighted by an intuition because it frequently has little in common with our usual thinking patterns and provides us with a whole new way of looking at a problem or even life in general.  When someone asked Einstein how he’d come up with the theory of relativity, he said that it, “just dropped in,” while he was playing the piano.  Intuition may occur as a thought but there’s no feeling that we somehow generated it.  It really is as if someone or something else dropped it into our mindstreams.

Now, one thing that all three of these ways of thinking – rapid responses to our environments, organized problem solving, and intuition – have in common is that they all appear to be relatively innocuous, relatively harmless.  It’s hard to figure out how you could go from them to the character in the Nine of Wands who looks like he got the snot beaten out of him.  What the hell happened?  Did he beat himself with his own ideas?  Did someone else dislike his ideas so much that they beat him up?

We find a clue to that process in Eckhart Tolle’s book, “A New Earth, Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.”  In his discussion of the, “pain body,” (the accumulation of subconscious emotional pain that we all carry) he states:  “. . . emotion is the body’s reaction to your mind . . . An emotion is the body’s response to a thought.”

In other words, thoughts never occur in isolation.  There are always emotions attached to them.  With many of them, the emotions, like the thoughts themselves, may arise and fall away so rapidly that we’re not even aware of them, but they’re there.

To use the example from above, we might think, “Remember to buy more cat food,” and not even realize we’re feeling anything.  Just below the surface though, there may be a fair number of emotional reactions, like, “I love my cat, I hate the smell of that fish flavored cat food, I miss my other cat who died, it all costs so much and I’m so worried about money . . .”  Love, hate, sadness, worry, all flashing through us over a damned can of cat food.

We might think that thoughts obviously can’t hurt us.  We can think of a purple polka dotted hippopotamus or the theory of relativity and neither of those thoughts is going to hurt us or anyone else.  They’re just ideas.  But – again – they’re ideas with emotions attached to them, and, yes, emotions can hurt us or help us.

If we obsessively ruminate over unhappy thoughts all day, that will hurt us.  It causes our blood pressure to shoot up, our bodies are flooded with cortisol and adrenaline, our serotonin levels drop and we become much more susceptible to depression and disease.  

If we interrupt those obsessively unhappy thoughts with the memories of something that made us happy – a vacation, great sex, a good friend, water skiing,  a vacation where we had great sex with a good friend while we were water skiing – that will help us.  Our blood pressure drops, serotonin levels increase, stress hormones drop, our immune systems get a boost.

So a good first step in not getting beaten up by our ideas is to consciously realize that every thought has some emotional component to it.  Every time we think something, we feel something.  The more aware we are of that, the more aware we become of what we’re actually feeling and we can gradually start to eliminate the thoughts that make us have bad feelings.  Like fish flavored cat food.

Another thing that can help us is to meditate a bit on the Buddhist notion that NOTHING HAS ANY VALUE.  At first blush, that may sound like a radically nihilistic notion.  “What the hell do you mean, nothing has any value?  I’ll tell you what has some value, Bubba – my new IPhone.  THAT’S what has some value.  Exactly $799.98, plus shipping, that’s how much value it’s got.  Don’t tell ME nothing has any value.”

To express the idea a little more clearly, nothing has any INTRINSIC value.  It only has the value that we assign to it, the value that we project into it.  An IPhone is just a piece of plastic and electronic components.  There’s nothing in it that’s intrinsically, “happy making,”  until we decide that IPhones make us happy.  Or unhappy.

Buddhists put a little finer edge on it by saying that we assign one of two feelings to virtually everything we encounter in life:  attraction or aversion.  Either we like it, in which case we want it, or we don’t like it, in which case we want to avoid it.  

The tricky part is in realizing that there is NOTHING that’s either likable or unlikable until we decide it’s likable or unlikable.  It’s wonderful to realize that because it gets rid of a whole host of unconscious motivations like greed, prejudice, possessiveness, materialism.  Literally, nothing has any value unless we want to think it has some value. Nothing’s good unless we think it, nothing’s bad unless we think it.

It also makes us deliciously responsible for our own lives because we’re no longer victims of circumstance.  How many times have we all said, “I’ll be happy when I get a new car, or a new computer, or a new job, or a better lover, or a nicer house?”  We chronically think that there is something or someone OUT THERE that will magically make us happy.  And if it’s OUT THERE, then we don’t have any control over it.  It’s something that happens to us or it doesn’t, either something outside of us makes us happy, or we’re just doomed to be miserable.

Once we realize that it’s our own thoughts that are assigning happy or miserable feelings to the things out there, that we are unconsciously deciding that some things are attractive and some things are aversive, then we control our own happiness.  Or we can be just as miserable as we want to be.

Happy, sad, mean, joyful, miserable.  They all start with thoughts and we, and we alone, make our thoughts.

The Hierophant, The Sky Thingie, and Noshing at the Spiritual Buffet.

An exploration of religion versus spirituality as illustrated by buffet lines.

The Tarot card The Hierophant shows us a Pope-like figure seated on a throne, with acolytes bowing down to him.  In a general sense, The Hierophant represents all that is traditional, conformist, and conventional.  In a more specific sense, he represents dogmatic religion, as opposed to spirituality.

The basic idea here is that if you want to learn about religion and what it teaches, you go to a priest, a pastor, a rabbi, or an imam.  If you want to learn about spirituality, you meditate or you take psychedelics or get involved with a tradition such as shamanism or ecstatic dance.  Religion involves learning about other people’s interactions with the divine.  Spirituality is about having your own interaction with the divine.

I started thinking about all of this the other day when I read this passage from David Michies sweet little book, “Buddhism for Busy People:”

“One of the refreshing things about Buddhism, however, is its insistence that you should only take up those practices which benefit you.  If certain aspects aren’t helpful, simply put them to one side.  You can always come back to them later.  You won’t go to hell because you don’t believe in karma.  Nor will believing in it guarantee you a place in heaven – like everything else in Buddhism, it is what you DO that counts, not what you say you believe.”

I was contrasting that in my own mind to a Catholic priest I saw on a news show recently inveighing on the subject of Catholics who supported a woman’s right to have an abortion.  “We don’t agree with, ‘super-market Catholicism,’ “ he said.  “You’re not allowed to push your cart down the aisle and pick out this part of the Catholic faith but reject other parts.  You have to accept the entire doctrine or you’re not really a practicing Catholic.”

The differences in the two approaches couldn’t be any clearer.  Buddhism is basically saying, “Hey, here’s what we think the truth is but you need to pick out what works for you.”  Traditional religions are saying, “Here’s what the truth is and you need to agree with it, even if it seems like nonsense to you.”  The Buddha actually encouraged his followers to debate him on concepts  they disagreed with and cast aside whatever they thought was wrong.  On the other hand, it’s Catholic doctrine that whatever the Pope says about faith is infallibly true.  Always.  From god’s mouth to his ear.  Period.

The difference in those approaches probably lies in ancient human history when our cultures had shamans rather than priests and pastors.  Our ancestors undoubtedly found the world to be a scary place that was full of mysterious and sometimes life threatening occurrences.  We can easily imagine a cave woman leaning against a tree enjoying a rainstorm when -KABLAM!!!!!!!! – a bolt of lightning blows the tree into splinters and flings her twenty feet through the air.

Her first response would probably be something along the lines of, “Holy shit, what was THAT?!?”

As she clambered to her feet, though, and brushed the mud and splinters from her loin cloth she’d have a brilliant insight:  something must have CAUSED the lightning thingie that blew up  the tree.  And since the lightning thingie came out of the sky, whatever caused it must live . . . up there . . . in the sky.  

She’d probably spend many nights around the cave fire discussing this with the other tribe members, comparing notes, and arguing about the exact nature of the . . . Sky Thingie . . . that threw the . . . lightning thingie . . . at the tree.  What was it like?  Was it like a human being?  Why would it do such a thing?  Did it hate trees?  Perhaps it had been aiming the lightning at the woman and missed her and hit the tree?  Did it have poor eyesight, then?  What was it so pissed off about, anyway?  Was it a male or a female thingie?  And if it was a male thingie, did it have . . . you know . . . a thingie?

So there would have been many complex disputations arising out of the tree being hit by the lightning.  At a certain point, a cave person would step out of the shadows and say, “Hey, I had a dream about the Sky Thingie that threw the lightning thingie.  He says that if you’ll sacrifice a goat and not eat shellfish he won’t do it again.”

“Oh, really?” someone might reply.  “So the Sky Thingie is definitely a male?”

“Well, yes.  And he has a beard and wears sandals and sits on a golden rock.”

“So, you can talk to him, then?  Did he say why he’s throwing lightning thingies at us?”

“He did it because you didn’t sacrifice a goat and you ate clams.  Those are the rules.  He told me.”

Thus was born the shaman:  a special class of human beings who had knowledge of and were able to intervene with supernatural forces.  He or she would no doubt have been seen as just as important – or more so – than the tribal hunters, fishers, or gatherers.  After all, she had a special relationship with the Sky Thingie and could protect the tribe from supernatural temper fits and, um, sky anomalies. 

The tribe would have soon realized two things:  (a) like all humans the shaman was mortal and would die at some point; (b) therefore, he needed to train other shamans to take his place and keep a record of the Sky Thingie’s rules.

Thus were born priests and religions.

As the centuries passed and the priest/shamans had more and more visions and wrote down more and more rules from the Sky Thingies, the rules got more and more complex and began to include things like:

  • Don’t eat bacon.
  • Don’t trip blind people.
  • Don’t have sex with sheep.
  • Don’t work on Saturday.
  • It’s okay to have slaves, but only for seven years.
  • The Sky Thingie loves you and if you don’t believe that we’ll kill you.
  • Always capitalize the Sky Thingie’s name.  If you don’t, we’ll kill you.
  • Never draw a picture of the Sky Thingie or we’ll kill you.
  • Women are property and they should cover their heads and faces.  Or we’ll kill you.

You can tell from the last few rules that things started to take a nasty turn somewhere along the way and that the priests and religions were getting more powerful in society.  Not only had they established themselves as the only people who could interpret what the Sky Thingie wanted, they could also kill anyone who even tried to talk to the Sky Thingie on their own.

That’s really the point that we’re at with many of today’s formal religions.  They consist of centuries of barnacle-like accretions of irrational rules that can only be interpreted by the priests and pastors and rabbis.  Intelligent self inquiry is NOT encouraged.

Which is why the Buddhist approach is so refreshing.  

Formal religions have rules like, “Don’t eat bacon because the Sky Thingie says not to.”   Buddhist discussions are more like:

“Don’t eat bacon.”  

“Why not?  I really like BLT’s.”

“Do you want to be happy and avoid pain?”

“Well, yes.”

“Do you think pigs want to be happy and avoid pain?”

“Um . . . well . . . yes.  I suppose they do.”

“Do you think it’s painful to be raised in a tiny pen and killed when you’re young?”

“Well . . . yes.”

“Would you be happy if someone cut you up, fried you in a teflon pan and slapped you on a piece of bread with some tomatoes and lettuce?”

“Well, no.”

“Then don’t eat bacon.”

And, of course, even then, you’re free to eat bacon sandwiches if you want to.  No one will kill you and you won’t go to hell.  You might reincarnate as a pig, but, hey, fair’s fair, right?

As long as we’re on the subject of food, think of it this way:  religion is like being invited to a huge Thanksgiving dinner.  There are platters full of turkey and mashed potatoes and baked yams and apple pies and cornbread dressing and green bean casseroles with those strange fried onion things on top.  

Maybe you really hate baked yams or green beans and you just want a little turkey and dressing with mashed potatoes and gravy.  But, no, there’s a huge scary guy with a baseball bat at the head of the table and he says that you have to eat EVERYTHING!!!  Especially the green beans and yams.  Or he’ll kill you.  And then you’ll go to hell.  Gulp.

Spirituality, on the other hand, is more like a buffet line.  You walk along, looking at the varieties of food and you only pick out the food that appeals to YOU.  You don’t force down every single thing on the line just to prove that you’re faithful.  If you feel like a shrimp salad instead of Swedish meatballs, that’s what you get.  

“Meditation?  Yes, I think I’ll take a bit of that. Hmmm . . . Wicca . . . does that fit on my plate right now?  Maybe as a side dish?  Oh, look . . . it’s affirmations and positive thinking.  Man, I haven’t had those in FOREVER.  Yum. . .”

There are no priests or pastors standing at your shoulder telling you that you REALLY want the roast beef instead of the tacos.  YOU choose what’s nourishing for you at that moment and take a pass on what doesn’t feed your soul.  And it’s an all you can eat buffet.  You’re always free to go back for second helpings.

But maybe skip the bacon sandwich.  Just consider it.

Bundles of Sticks, Ajahn Brahm, and the Ten of Wands

Finding closure on experiences that don’t make any sense.

Should we carry our past with us or just throw it away?

The Ten of Wands shows a person plodding along, carrying a large bundle of sticks.  The, “sticks,” are wands, the suit of the Tarot that represents ideas, so he’s actually carrying a massive number of ideas.  

If we take a little closer look at the card we notice a few odd things about it.  First, he’s not at all carrying the sticks the way that we’d expect.  If we pick up a big old honker of a load of sticks, we’d throw them over our shoulder, right?  Instead,  he’s carrying them in front of himself, with his head pressed into the bundle. 

Second, the sticks are all crossed up at the bottom and going in different directions at the top.  If someone asked us to lug a large pile of sticks across the yard, we’d probably throw a rope around them and tie them together, not carry them in a loose, unwieldy mess.

Third, he’s definitely not watching where he’s going.  His head is tilted down, as if he’s watching each step he’s taking, rather than keeping his eyes on his destination.

So just by looking at the face of the card, we can deduce quite a few things about it.  This guy is probably an intellectual, or at least someone who thinks a great deal, because he has many, many ideas that he’s carrying around.  His ideas don’t really, “fit,” together, and they’ve become quite a burden for him.  In fact, he’s so involved with carrying his ideas that he really has no idea where he’s going.  He’s so lost in his ideas that he has no perspective on his life.

The Australian Buddhist monk, Ajahn Brahm, tells a funny story about sticks.  When he was a novice monk he was strolling through the forest with his teacher, the head monk at the monastery where he was studying.  The master suddenly picked up a stick from the forest floor and asked, “How heavy is this stick, Ajahn Brahm?”  And then he threw it away and asked, “How heavy is it now?”

The point, of course, is that something is, “heavy,” only when we hold on to it.  It’s the act of PICKING IT UP AND CARRYING IT that makes it heavy.  We don’t look at a stick on the ground and say, “Oh, crap, that’s heavy.”  We only say it when we try to pick it up.  It’s our act of grasping something that makes it seem heavy, not the thing itself.

Human beings are natural storytellers.  We all reflexively try to make sense out of our lives and weave the events we experience into a coherent, sensible narrative.  We have an innate drive to try to make sense out of what happens to us and so we’re constantly reviewing our pasts and rearranging the puzzle pieces of our lives into some sort of a rational structure.

We don’t just say, “Well, I lost my fucking mind and decided to quit my job, leave my husband, and move to Montana to grow dental floss.  Just for no particular reason.”  Instead, we say, “After several years of marriage I felt a yearning for solitude and spiritual growth that could only be satisfied by disconnecting from social obligations that had become increasingly mundane.”  

That feels ever so much better.

We need to feel that it all makes sense, somehow.

From a Buddhist perspective, constantly trying to make sense out of our pasts is tantamount to picking up that stick.  It only becomes heavy, it only becomes a burden, when we grasp it and carry it around with us.  In fact, Ajahn Brahm actually recommends writing, “this is my past,” on a stick and throwing it as far away as we can.  Just let it go.  When we’re not carrying it, it’s not heavy.

Now, modern psychology has a different take on it.  Therapists tell us that it IS important to try to make sense out of what’s happened to us and to strive for a sense of meaningfulness in our lives.  Bottom lining it, that’s why we go to therapists:  because our lives aren’t making any sense and we need someone to help us sort it all out.

I suspect that for most of us, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.  If we wake up one morning and have no past, we may have suffered a psychotic break.  Or, in the case of people like Eckhart Tolle, perhaps we’ve had a massive revelation, a huge psychic shift that made us realize how absurd our previous thinking was.

For those of us who are neither psychotics nor enlightened spiritual masters, though, just tossing our pasts out the window isn’t an option.  It seems we can’t just NOT think about it.

Which brings us to that tired, but still valid, word:  closure.

We think of closure as having worked through a problem or a process in life until we’ve made sense of it, until it fits logically into our coherent narrative of what our lives mean.  If we go through a divorce, for instance, we may go to a therapist and try to figure out why it happened.  What was our role in the relationship breaking apart?  What was our spouses role?  What did we do wrong?  What did we do right?  What can we learn from it to make our future relationships better?  Eventually, when we’ve talked through all of those issues, we start to achieve closure and we’re ready to move on from it.  We haven’t necessarily thrown the stick away, but we’ve made it a hell of a lot lighter to carry.

There are other issues, though, that we can never seem to make any sense out of.

– If you were badly abused as a child, that doesn’t make any sense.  You didn’t do anything to deserve it and there’s no logical or emotional reason it should have happened to you.

-If you’re an open and loving person and you got chewed up and spit out by a malignant narcissist, that doesn’t make any sense.  You didn’t ask for it, you didn’t deserve it, and it shouldn’t have happened.

-If the new boss from hell fires you from your dream job because he’s a sexist or a sadist, that doesn’t make any sense.  You were a great employee, there’s no justice in it, and it shouldn’t have happened.

So there’s a kind of a subclass of experiences that we all have that we could call, “doesn’t make any sense,” experiences.  Those are the experiences that get really, “sticky.”  Those are the experiences that we pick up and carry with us.  We go over and over and over them, trying to figure them out, trying to make them somehow fit into our narratives, our story.  But they never do.

“Doesn’t make any sense,” experiences are the ones that are most likely to wound us spiritually and emotionally.  They keep us stuck.  They keep us wounded.  They keep us living in pain.

Oddly, though, they’re also the experiences that are easiest to let go of, if we think of them in the right way.  If we’ve honestly, sincerely, conscientiously tried to figure them out and we can’t do it, we can just say, “Well, fuck it.  This doesn’t make any sense.”  And then we can put that experience in a nice, “doesn’t make any sense,” box, tie a brightly colored, “doesn’t make any sense,” ribbon around it, and toss it in the nearest river.

Maybe we’re not enlightened or smart enough to throw all of our, “sticks,” away, but we can throw some of them away.  We can consciously choose which parts are valuable and which parts are worthless.  We can drop some of the burden and make it a little easier to move forward in our lives.  

And that’s a good start.

Lost Car Keys, Emotional Ladders and Being Ram Dass’s Illegitimate Child

Learning to climb our emotional ladders.

Did you ever have one of those morning meditations that was absolutely perfect?  Maybe you get up out of bed, light a candle on your altar, close your eyes, and the love and peace just FLOW into you as you sit there.  You feel compassion for all living beings and you feel oneness with the entire cosmos.  You feel that if you aren’t totally Buddha-like, you must at least be the illegitimate child that Ram Dass never acknowledged.  You are just SO high, SO spiritual, SO totally in the flow!

The feeling may continue as you take your shower, allowing the warm water to wash all the negativity from your aura.  And then again, as you eat your oatmeal, reminding yourself that you honor all living beings by not eating the flesh of animals.  You know you’ll have a perfect day at work.

And then . . . and then . . . you can’t find your car keys.  You go through the pockets of the clothes you wore the day before.  Check your night stand.  Look under the bed.  Scour your sock drawer.  Crawl around on the floor in case you dropped them.  Within the span of a few moments you’ve been transformed from Pema Chodron into a snarling, wild eyed beast.

“Where are you, you goddamned little jingly bastards?  Where in the fuck ARE you?”

Ironically, at the very height of your fury and hysteria, you locate the keys.  On your altar.

Sigh.  Another failed leap into enlightenment.

In their book, “Ask and It Is Given,”  Esther and Jerry Hicks make the point that sometimes it’s perfectly okay to feel angry.  In fact, sometimes getting really pissed off can be a sign that our mental health is improving.

It’s kind of a breath of fresh air in the New Age/New Thought movement.  We are constantly being told that we must stay positive and that, because of the Law of Attraction, being angry will do nothing but attract angry people and unpleasant events into our lives.  We find ourselves trying to censor our emotions, consistently trying to not feel what we’re feeling –  if what we’re feeling is anger –  and then feeling guilty when we can’t do it.

The Hicks look at it from a slightly different vantage point, which is that angry emotion is better than no emotion.  The basic premise is that our emotions are what motivate us, what keep us moving in life, what draw us toward love and make us run away from hatred.  Without emotions, we’re just stuck, dead in the water.

They say we live on a sort of a ladder of emotions, with apathy and depression at the bottom rungs of the ladder and love and joy at the top. In between joy and depression there are our other emotional states like irritation, feeling overwhelmed, pessimism, hopefulness, and so on.  As we climb the ladder and become more fully emotionally engaged with joy, we become more fully alive. When we descend the ladder into depression and apathy, we’re not really living, we’re just existing.  The ladder would look a lot like this:

JOY

POSITIVE EXPECTATION

OPTIMISM

HOPEFULNESS

PESSIMISM

IRRITATION

OVERWHELM

BLAME

ANGER

REVENGE 

RAGE

DEPRESSION

APATHY

I really like that idea of an emotional ladder because it allows me to be the mess that I frequently am and be honest with myself about where I’m at.  As the Hicks said in another book, it’s easy to program a GPS to take you from Phoenix to L.A. but first you have to know that you’re in Phoenix.  If we’re on the second to the top rung of the ladder – positive expectation – then it’s relatively easy to take that next step up to joy.  On the other hand, if we’re stuck WAY down the ladder in anger and we try to jump straight  up into joy, we’re probably going to fall off of the ladder and land on our asses.  It’s important to be honest with ourselves about where we really are on our emotional journey.  It saves us from broken asses.

And that leads into another neat concept which the Hicks came up with: the, “emotional set point.”  Basically, that’s just the rung of the emotional ladder that we live on most of the time.  We humans tend to be creatures of habit and so we pretty much maintain a consistent emotional state.  If we’re happy most of the time, we’ll stay happy most of the time.  If we’re sad most of the time, we’ll stay sad most of the time.  We may occasionally climb up and down a few rungs on the emotional ladder as life brings us good or bad events, but we tend to return to what feels like our, “natural,” state of being.

And there is a certain natural, genetic component involved in that.  According to The Harvard Health Blog, about half of the reason we may be happy or sad is based on the disposition we were born with.  So that person you know who’s always chirpy and perky and bright and annoyingly happy?  Yeah, that’s probably real.  They were likely just born that way.  And the friend who always seems a little sad may have just inherited it from his parents.  It’s their natural emotional set points.

The good news behind that, though, is that we can change our emotional set points.  Just because it feels, “natural,” to be in a certain emotional state doesn’t mean that we have to stay in that emotional state.

Suppose, for instance, that I’m a perfectionist.  I would want everything to go exactly according to plan and turn out just the way I’d envisioned it. 

What would flow out of that state of being would be a great deal of impatience with my co-workers and/or family members because they weren’t living up to the high standards that I set.  I might be constantly criticizing them, sniping at them, belittling their efforts and generally acting like an insufferable prick.

The cure for that could be to do loving-kindness meditations.  Starting to actively envision what other people are going through and building in empathy for the fact that they’re struggling with life the same way that I am.  As I continued to do that, my perfectionist expectations would drop away and I’d begin to see the people around me as fully dimensional human beings who deserve caring and patience.  I’m changing my emotional set point.

Or perhaps, like so many of us, we grew up in physically or emotionally abusive families.  Our, “go to,” response to stress in life might then be emotional flatness.  We learned very early in life that it’s easier to just turn off our emotions rather than feel the pain of the abuse.  

What flows out of that is becoming emotionally absent with our partners or children whenever there’s a problem.  Even worse, we abandon ourselves emotionally and fail to experience joy and deep love because we’re so shut down.

The cure for that could be to start doing, “happiness meditations.”  Just sit down once or twice a day and meditate on something that makes us happy, even if it’s a distant childhood memory of a beloved dog.  Start learning to live in that emotion again.  Stopping several times during the day and asking ourselves, “Am I happy right now?”  And, if we’re not, pull up that memory again until happiness becomes a habit.

The point is that it’s a practice, the same way that yoga or meditation are practices.  We don’t get where we want to go all at once.  If we come home and find our life partner shtupping our best friend, it’s okay to be angry.  In fact, it’s a hell of a lot better to be angry than it is to be depressed.  Anger can empower us but depression takes our power away.

As long as we’re feeling something, we’re still okay.  We’re still moving.  We’re still growing.  And, as the Hicks said, we can reach up for that next best emotion on the ladder. We can change our emotional set point.  It’s better to feel irritation than to feel overwhelmed.  It’s better to feel pessimism than to feel irritation.  It’s better to feel hopefulness than to feel irritation.  We can steadily, consciously move our emotional set point upward toward joy as long as we’re honest about what we’re feeling and we don’t shut ourselves down.

If we don’t feel it, we don’t heal it.  If we don’t heal it, we don’t grow.  And growing toward happiness is even better than knowing where your car keys are hiding.

Putin, Ukraine, Toxic Males, and The Emperor Card

Toxic-Male psychopathology in the invasion of Ukraine.

We’re at about the three week mark in the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  Anyone who’s a decent person has been shocked, appalled, and nauseated by what we’ve seen.  A quiet, peaceful country primarily known for its wheat and decorated Easter eggs is being bombed into dust.

For no apparent reason.

The horror of what we’re seeing on the news everyday is hard to grasp, but equally hard to grasp in the, “why,” of it.  Why would Russia suddenly launch a brutal military campaign – the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Nazis – against a neighbor who was absolutely no threat to its security?

I saw a talking head on one of the news shows tonight who asked, “Just how much of a psychopath is Vladimir Putin?”  It’s a revealing question because it points to the fact that we already knew Putin was a psychopath, we just didn’t know (and still don’t) how truly crazy he may be.

That truth points to another truth, which is that we’ve developed a remarkably high tolerance for psychopathology.  We put up with it.  We accept it.  It isn’t as if Putin hasn’t been doing dreadful things for decades.  He almost single handedly destroyed whatever small hope the Russian people had for freedom and democracy.  His political opponents end up poisoned, dead, or in prison.  He employed chemical warfare in Syria.

He’s a bad guy.  A crook.  A thug.  A criminal.  And he has been all of those things all of the time that he’s been in power.  Still, the world leaders kept inviting him to the dinner table.  Kept trading with Russia, inviting their teams to the Olympics, welcoming their tourists and investors, just as if Putin was somehow a normal, civilized leader.  It wasn’t until he decided to obliterate a modern society for no particular reason that we began to treat him like the psychopath that he is.

Just to define our terms before we go any further, what exactly do we mean when we say that someone is a psychopath?  According to Wikipedia, psychopathology is:

“characterized by persistent antisocial behavior, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited and egotistical traits.”

Put another way, a psychopath is a cold blooded, egotistical prick who causes a lot of suffering and really doesn’t give a shit about how many people he hurts.

I have argued previously in this blog that psychopathology is an inherent part of the Toxic-Male paradigm which our society too often embraces.  We see some of that exemplified in the Tarot card, The Emperor.  We can tell from his throne, scepter and title that he’s a powerful leader, a king of kings.  When we look a little more closely at the card, though, we see that he’s completely alone, armored, rigid, and surrounded by a blighted, sterile landscape.  His power is so toxic that not a tree or a flower can grow in his poisonous energy field. Still,  we focus on the power and not the devastation.  

Power that destroys everything around it for the sake of power is psychopathic.

Many of us actually admire and reward psychopathic behavior.  Consider this article from Forbes magazine in which they estimate that up to 12% of corporate CEOs may be psychopaths.  They are in those positions precisely because they are ruthless, have a total lack of empathy and will place corporate profit above the human suffering of their employees every time.

Remember when the CEO of the mortgage company Better.com fired over 900 employees at a goddamned Zoom meeting just before Christmas?  People across the country were shocked at the totally heartless, callous way that he’d behaved, but he wasn’t fired.  He took a month-long hiatus (translate:  he took Christmas vacation) and was back at work within a month.  He issued a tepid apology which was much more of an, “I’m sorry I got caught,” than it was an, “I’m sorry.”  He kept his job because the board of directors at Better.com wanted someone with psychopathic traits running their company.

We may shake our heads at the horrible behavior of Vladimir Putin but while we’re doing that we should take a very careful look at the behavior of Donald Trump. Persistent antisocial behavior?  Check.  Impaired empathy?  Check.  Total lack of remorse?  Check.  Bold, disinhibited and egotistical traits?  Check.  Can we really doubt that the primary difference between Putin and Trump is one of power?  Can we really doubt that Trump would have happily shut down a free press and had his opponents imprisoned if he could have gotten away with it?  Trump is a classic CEO psychopath.

And just about half of the population of the United States voted for him.  If you need any evidence that we have an increasing tolerance for psychopathic behavior, there it is.

When we look at written history, legends, and myths, it’s a safe bet that psychopaths have always been scattered throughout the human race.  Wherever we find suffering, cruelty, torture, war and rape, there we find psychopaths.  Is it fair, though, to tag this trait as a part of Toxic-Males?  After all, there are female psychopaths, too.

The answer to that question is a resounding, “yes.”  Psychopathology is toxic and it is very much a male behavior.  The ratio of male to female psychopaths may be as high as 20:1.  Virtually all serial killers have been males.  Mass shootings are overwhelmingly committed by males.  The prison population of violent offenders is heavily weighted toward males.

We can see the same evidence in human history.  Leonard Shlain, author of “The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image,” hypothesizes that most of the earliest human cultures were matriarchal, goddess based and peaceful.  It wasn’t until the emergence of patriarchal society that we began to see psychopath kings and leaders.  There is no historical record of females leading hordes of barbarians to murder, rape, and pillage.  Virtually all of the monsters in human form – Ghengis Khan, Hitler, Napolean, Pol Pot, to name just a few – have been males.

It might be tempting for us to simply shrug our shoulders and say, “Oh, well . . . they’ve always been a part of the human race.  What can we do about that?”  Unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately – the human race is at a crossroads and, as Eckhart Tolle has pointed out, we are in imminent danger of extinction if we don’t begin to evolve out of our current ways of thinking.  We now have weapons capable of destroying life on earth.  Millions – not thousands – of people were killed in wars and other armed conflicts during the 20th century and it’s not looking a hell of a lot better in this century.

To put it mildly, “Houston, we have a problem.”  A major component in that problem is Toxic-Male psychopathology.  By far and away, the majority of human beings – male and female – are NOT out there killing people and spreading terror.  It’s this tiny, tiny minority that’s threatening our very existence.  

So we must be rid of them.  One way or another, we MUST be rid of them.  We start that process with our own minds.  We start that process by recognizing that they are sick, depraved, deeply flawed human beings.  We stop, “admiring,” their so-called toughness and ruthlessness and realize that it’s really nothing more than a thin veneer over a sadistic personality.  We stop describing them as, “geniuses,” when they put their brutality on full display.  We stop voting for them when they run for office.  We stop promoting them to positions of leadership in businesses.  We stop acting as if it’s somehow okay or inevitable that mass shootings continue in our society or that our leaders are braggadocious bullies.

Above all else, we need to start holding up and supporting the model of emotionally healthy, nurturing, caring males.  Most men are not like these psychopaths – we know that.  Most men love their partners and their families and just want to live their lives in peace and harmony.  At the same time, though, as males we are constantly confronted with the stereotypes of what, “real,” men are like.  And those stereotypes look an awful lot like the psychopaths:  ruthless, emotionless, physically dominant, violent, and lacking in empathy.  That ideation of the, “alpha male,” is buried WAY deep down inside the collective psyches of both males and females.  We have to start digging it out, holding it up to the light of day, and rejecting it.

It really is a matter of our survival.

The Wheel of Fortune – Good Luck, Bad Luck, Flying Monkeys and Eckhart Tolle

A closer look at good luck and bad luck in The Wheel of Fortune

Luck.  It seems to be a universal concept, found in every human culture.  There are blues songs bemoaning the fact that, “if it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.”  People talk about how their luck’s been so bad they’d have to look up to see the belly of a snake.  Then there are other people who seem to live enchanted lives, lives where one good thing after another happens to them for no apparent reason other than they’ve got really good luck.

The Wheel of Fortune Tarot card is obviously about luck, but the modern, Waite Deck depiction of it is really just about good luck.  It shows a wheel bedecked with Egyptian deities and surrounded by symbols of the four elements or, perhaps, the four apostles.  There’s nothing threatening or scary about this version of the card.

When we look at the old, Marseilles deck version of the card, though, we see a different story.  Instead of Egyptian deities, we see . . . um . . . monkey critters.  Wizard of Oz flying monkeys, one perched atop the wheel, wearing a crown and wielding a sword, one being carried upward on the wheel and one being cast down by the wheel.  This is really much more in keeping with that very primal perception of luck that we humans have always had about luck.  It’s something kind of creepy, magical, and outside of us, outside of our control.  We can never tell when a flying monkey might swoop down out of nowhere and carry us away in its nasty little talons

Humans are always trying to find a way to harness luck, to somehow bring it under our control.  There are dozens of gods of good luck that we’ve worshiped through history – Hotei, Fortuna, Lakshmi, etc. – hoping that they’ll bless us with strong luck.  Many people carry a rabbit’s foot or a lucky penny or have, “lucky socks,” or jeans that they favor.  A lot of obsessive compulsive behavior flows out of a ritualistic quest for luck.  OCDs may feel an urgent need to wipe the counter exactly seven times or wash their hands three times in order to avoid something catastrophic happening.  Most of us were taught the basics of avoiding bad luck as children.  Don’t step on a crack or you’ll break your mother’s back.  Don’t walk under a ladder.  Don’t break a mirror.  Oh, shit, it’s a black cat!

The older Tarot card shows both good luck and back luck – one monkey is rising on the Wheel of Fortune and one is descending.  The two phenomena seem to go together, to be attached, one rising from the other.  The second verse of the Tao Te Ching alludes to this when it says:

Once we know beauty, we know ugliness.

Once we know good, we know evil.

High and low, long and short—all these opposites support each other and can’t exist without one another.

That duality, that sense of opposites always going together, seems to apply to everything on the material plane, including luck.  Good luck seems to give way to bad luck and bad luck gives way to good luck, or that’s the way that we conceptualize it.

Eckhart Tolle suggests that, at least to some extent, it really is just about the way that we conceptualize it.  Many times, what we view as bad luck is just the end of a cycle.  Everything grows and then it diminishes and then it grows again.  We don’t view plants dying at the onset of winter as a tragedy, but we do view humans dying at the end of their incarnations as tragic.

Louise Hay has much the same view of the ends of relationships.  When we break up with someone or we get a divorce or our partners die, it feels like a horrible, painful tragedy.  It feels like bad luck.  She suggests viewing it instead as a sort of a graduation.  At the point the relationship ends, it means that we’ve learned everything we were supposed to learn from the dynamic of that relationship and it’s time to say, “thank you for the wisdom,” and move on.

The Law of Attraction people tell us that good luck and bad luck can actually be learned behaviors, patterns that we get into that, “attract,” more of the same.  If we can learn how to maintain a positive, healthy outlook on life, we tend to attract positive, healthy people and things into our lives.  In the same sense, if we see life as a terrible, crappy experience where we’ve got nothing but bad luck happening, that’s what we attract.  Even worse, we attract people with the same negative vibes and then we get to deal with their shit in addition to our own.  That can go a long way toward explaining why some people always seem to be lucky and some people seem to have a curse on them.

Pema Chodron said that life is all about being constantly thrown out of our nest. Constantly forced to give up our security and adapt to new experiences.  Quite a bit of what we call, “bad luck,” is that simple, elemental human experience of not wanting things to change.  We envision an idyllic, static existence where nothing new or challenging ever happens to us because change is scary.  Getting fired from our jobs, losing our partners, having to move out of our houses – these are all bad luck because they’re changes that we don’t want.

There are a couple of things worthy of noting about that, though.  The more that we resist change – the more that we say, “no,” to the end of a cycle –  the more dramatic that change is eventually going to be.  It’s almost like an explosive force that just keeps getting more and more powerful the longer we sit on it, until it eventually blows our existence into tiny, smoldering pieces.  A small change that we resist can easily grow into a catastrophe that we could have avoided.

The other thing to note is that good luck so often grows out of bad luck.  After we’ve had a period of seriously rotten luck, we frequently find our lives being showered with blessings of all sorts.  It could be that, as the Taoists assert, good luck is attached to bad luck and one inevitably gives rise to the other.  Or, as Tolle said, perhaps we’re just ending one cycle and plowing the dead weeds under the ground to make room for the new growth.

That can make a huge difference in how we experience those periods of, “bad luck.”  We can realize that The Wheel of Fortune is a wheel that’s constantly turning and that we’re never stuck in one place.  It just feels like it.  Being thrown out of the nest may feel incredibly uncomfortable emotionally.  It may be terrifying.  It may feel like horrible luck.  But it’s the only way we learn how to fly.

Dan Adair is the author of, “Just the Tarot,” available on Amazon.com at a very reasonable price.

The Lovers, The Devil, and Being Thrown Out of the Garden

Karmic relationships and how to leave them.

The Lovers Tarot card is a sort of a snapshot of a story we’re all familiar with:  Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  The image is all the more poignant because we know the end of the story.  This picture was taken when the beautiful angel was hovering over them as a guardian and protector.  The very same angel would later cast them out of the garden because – horror of horrors – Eve munched on an apple and that pissed off their psychotic, bipolar god.

In many ways, this is a perfect metaphor for the process of, “falling in love.”  And falling out of love.

When we first meet that perfect someone and fall in love, our brains and bodies are absolutely saturated with pleasure hormones like oxytocin.  We become enchanted with the mere presence of our love object and the entire world seems to glow with a peculiar brightness and joy.  Basically, we’re high as a kite and we feel like we’re living in a beautiful garden.

That oxytocin high lasts about two years (coincidentally, about the same  time it takes to conceive a baby, gestate it, and get it on its feet) and then it just disappears.  Suddenly our brains go back to normal.  This is the, “reassessment period,” in a relationship where we take a good, hard look at our partners and decide if we really want to stay with them.  If, all in all, we feel satisfied and happy with them, we stay in the relationship.  If, after we come down from our oxytocin high, we discover that we’re living with a frog  rather than a prince, we leave.

In other words, we fall out of love.  We’ve been cast out of the enchanted garden.

I’ve been thinking about that process because of a subset of relationships that the amazing Sonia Choquette refers to as, “karmic relationships.”  In her videos, she explains that these are relationships that involve a sort of a, “Soul agreement,” with the other person.  The agreement is that we and the other partner are going to teach each other some serious lessons that will help us grow into our spiritual evolution.

And, “serious,” is the salient word there.  These tend to be very, very heavy relationships.

There’s an element of compulsion in them, for one thing.  We meet someone and suddenly feel a deep compulsion to be with them.  It may not even be someone we particularly like.  They may have values that are completely at odds with our own, or perhaps they’re physically or emotionally someone who is just not our type, not someone we would normally EVER be attracted to.

Yet, we are.  It’s a feeling like two magnets suddenly coming into alignment and pulling us toward each other with an irresistible force.

They also tend to be . . . uncomfortable . . . relationships.  In a romantic karmic relationship, we may feel a HUGE sexual attraction toward someone, but really, really NOT enjoy living with them.  Or we may feel a strong emotional attraction to them but have a terrible, terrible sex life.

In one way or another, it feels like a bad fit for us, because it is.  We’re not there to have a perfect relationship, we’re there to learn some heavy, hard lessons from being in each other’s lives.

That’s where it gets interesting because the timeline on a karmic relationship, the duration of it, is determined by when we learn those lessons and are ready to move on.  It may happen in six months or it may take decades.  In Sonia Choquette’s case, it took 31 years of marriage for her to get the lessons she needed to learn from her ex husband.

Which brings us to one of the most fascinating features of karmic relationships: leaving them.

When a karmic relationship is over, when we’ve finally learned the lessons we were supposed to learn, it becomes massively uncomfortable to stay in those relationships.  As Sonia said, the price we pay for overstaying in them is absolute emotional misery.  We really experience it as if we’re being spiritually expelled from them, as if we’re being thrown out of what we mistakenly thought was a garden but was actually full of weeds.  The same forces that compelled us to enter into the relationship are now compelling us to leave.  Lesson learned, relationship over.

If we ignore those compelling forces, if we insist on staying in the relationship even after the lessons from it have been learned, then we devolve into the couple from The Devil card.  This is the same couple of people from the The Lovers card, but now they’re living in misery and pain.  They’re chained to their karma, refusing to move on from the relationship and grow spiritually.

And, of course, if we examine The Devil card closely, we can see that the chains are very loose.  They could easily lift them over their heads and be free if they CHOSE freedom.  Instead, they cling to their misery.

Both Sonia Choquette and Louise Hay point to a very simple truth which our culture likes to deny:  relationships end.  And they end frequently.  When they d end, we can either choose to be miserable, choose to stay ensnared in the karma, or we can stop to absorb the lessons that we learned from the relationships.  We can either be bitter or we can bow gracefully toward our former partners and thank them for the lessons they helped us to learn.

And if we mutter under our breaths, “Thank you, you son of a bitch,” that’s alright, too.  We’re just humans and this is just a school.  We don’t have to get an A on our report cards every single time.

The Canyon of the Vaginas, The World Card, and the Loss of Male Magic

A friend gave me a book for Christmas called, “Ducks Flying Backward.”  It’s a wonderful collection of essays by Tom Robbins and the first entry is called, “The Canyon of the Vaginas.”  It’s about his quest to find a mysterious, obscure canyon in Nevada, the walls of which are covered with Native American petroglyph carvings of . . . well . . . vaginas.

Imagine that:  hundreds of Native shamans going to this one site over hundreds of years to carve depictions of vaginas!  And keep in mind, the Native petroglyphs weren’t casually done.  They were considered sacred symbols and it took considerable effort to incise them in the rock.

It started me musing on The World Tarot card.  It’s a card of rebirths, new beginnings and the successful gestation of projects.  It depicts a semi-nude woman emerging into the world with a magical wand held in each hand, a symbol not just of power but of balance.

The most interesting feature of the card, though, is probably the oval shape surrounding the woman.  Although it’s disguised as some sort of a wreath, it’s quite obviously symbolic of a vulva, complete with a clitoral bow perched at the top.  This card is really about the primal, archetypal, universal experience of birth.

Now, the Tarot also has a Death card and there’s nothing at all ambiguous about it.  It’s labeled, “DEATH,” and it has a grim reaper astride a black horse.  Why, then, would The World not have been labeled, “BIRTH?”  Or, if you wanted to extend that idea into our daily lives, “REBIRTH?”  Why disguise the vulva as a wreath?  If you wanted to depict the moment of birth, why not just do a painting of a baby emerging from a vagina?

The wreath is, of course, a symbol and, like all symbols, points toward a truth without actually expressing that truth in words.  As the Tao Te Ching says, “the word that can be spoken is not the eternal word.”  The moment that we try to express a symbol in words, we lose its essential truth, which is to say, the essence which is its truth.

Birth, in all of its forms – but particularly human birth – is one of the most deeply profound and mysterious events in human experience.  Science has, with its usual methodology, attempted to reduce that experience to the mere phenomenon of a sperm cell penetrating an egg, but no amount of reductionism can lessen the wonder of the process.  How do a few cells multiply into the complex, complicated, astounding beings we call, “humans?”  How do a sperm and an egg end up being a Buddha or a Mary Magdalene, an Einstein or a Marie Curie?

It’s a mystery.  Moreover, it’s a mystery which is contained primarily within the female body.  Yes, of course, men contribute sperm cells and the attached DNA but the process of actually creating a new human being is uniquely female.  And powerful. And magical.

If that process remains mysterious to us, with all of our instrumentation and ability to scan a fetus virtually from conception to birth, we can only guess what it must have felt like to our primitive ancestors.  It’s not hard to imagine a cave dweller gaping at a woman who had just given birth and exclaiming, “How in the hell did you DO that?”

Somehow in the course of our evolution women’s bodies became much more deeply connected to our universe than men’s bodies.  We see that plainly in the lunar cycles that cause oceans to rise and fall and women to menstruate whereas men feel . . . sort of uncomfortable . . . when the moon is full.

That’s not a subject for debate or sexual politics, it’s just a fact.  We’re at a point where our old buddy Science is beginning to document the very real differences between the state of a woman-being-in-the-world and a man-being-in-the-world.  For instance, we’re finding that women generally tend to have a much stronger connection between the two hemispheres of the brain than men and, therefore, a much deeper connection with intuition and symbolism.  (For more on that, see my post, “The High Priestess and the Hallway in Our Brains.”)

We can see these differences, we can observe them, but we still don’t fully comprehend them.  There’s still that very primitive sense that there’s something magical happening with the female spirit that’s NOT happening with the male spirit and it eludes us.  We could make a very strong case that the whole sorry history of patriarchy, treating women as property to be taken and enslaved and raped, and our current marriage laws spring straight out of that male desire to somehow capture that magic that males are missing in their own souls, even if by force.

The most visited painting in the Louvre right now is called, “The Origin of the World,” by Gustave Courbet.  It’s usually surrounded by crowds of tittering, semi-embarrassed Americans, gaping at the realistic portrayal of a woman’s genitals.  It might be tempting to brush this off as casual prurience, as prudes seizing a chance of peeking under a woman’s panties, but in it’s own way it’s become a sort of a shrine and the people have become pilgrims.  It’s not too hard a stretch to connect that painting with ancient Native Americans carving hundreds of vaginas into canyon walls.

The bottom line on it, I think, is that males have become so totally alienated from their own Divine Feminine that they have to project it outwards as a symbol.  They then worship it or attempt to capture it or – as in much of our pornography – degrade and devalue it.  As long as men continue to view the Feminine Principle in purely symbolic terms – a vagina rather than a spirit –  instead of fully integrating it into our consciousness, women will continue to be objectified as the unwilling, symbolic bearers of the magic that men have lost.

When we take a final look at The World card, we can note that the woman’s genitals are covered by a sort of a free-floating cloth.  The mystery remains concealed.  At least for now.

Old Souls, Young Souls and Reflections on the Death of Thich Nhat Hahn

Upon the death of Thich Nhat Hahn . . .

The great spiritual master, Thich Nhat Hanh, just died.  And the world took little note of his passing.  There was a brief note from the Dalai Lama. The United States State Department put out about a three paragraph memo recognizing him.  The Pope, as near I can tell, didn’t say a word.

I actually scanned through the pages of my FaceBook friends and found a total of three people who mentioned his death.  There were far more discussions of the death of a rock star named Meatloaf than there was of Thich Nhat Hanh.

Initially, I was fairly dismayed.  And saddened.  And a wee bit shocked.  I can’t tell you how many memes I’ve seen on FaceBook over the years that were quotations from Thich Nhat Hanh.  I’m sure you’ve seen them, too.  They’re usually posted with a picture of someone meditating or doing yoga or sitting blissfully under a tree.  I would guess that the number of them I’ve seen runs into the hundreds or possibly the thousands. 

 I found myself wondering – did all of those quotations actually mean anything to the people who posted them?  Did they read his books?  Did they watch his videos?  Did they in any way absorb anything that he said or believed?

I remembered a few months ago when Ram Dass passed over and there was very much the same reaction.  “Oh, yeah . . . I heard something about that.  Oh, well . . . he was pretty old, wasn’t he?”

Between the two of them, these people had a MASSIVE spiritual transmission.  They brought concepts and perspectives to the table that have helped millions – literally millions – of people across the world.  I don’t know what I expected at the news of their passing but it wasn’t, “Man, did you hear Meatloaf died?”

I know as I’m writing this that they’d both be laughing at the idea that their deaths were somehow important.  Both of them stressed throughout their decades of teachings that the whole, “my death matters,” rap is just an ego trip.  Ram Dass said that, “death is not an outrage,” it’s the most natural thing in the world.  Thich Nhat Hanh said that there is no death and no birth, just transitions of our forms.

Still, I think they were both exemplars of the fact that LIFE matters.  That the way we live our lives, that the amount of love and compassion and caring that we manifest matters very much.  In the middle of an ocean of pain and suffering and cruelty and despair, they continued to repeat that one simple, brave message:  love each other.

So . . . I  ponder over the fact that this beautiful human being, this compassionate, loving, deeply insightful man could pass away and it made such a tiny ripple on the consciousness of the world.

I think that the answer is probably that people have become accustomed to NOT having any sort of a spiritual practice, in the sense of consciously integrating spiritual values into their daily lives.  There’s a sort of a cliche’ in Texas about the good old boy Southern Baptist businessman who goes to church on Sundays and Wednesdays and screws people over the rest of the week.  When you ask him why he’d behave that way, the response is, “Well, that’s just binness (business).”

In other words, there’s a clear demarcation in his mind between spirituality – which happens on Sunday and Wednesday – and business, which happens on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.  There’s a sort of a spirituality cubby hole in his existence that needs to be filled, but he manages to keep it very much in the background for most of his life.

I would guess that, for many people, posting, “spirituality memes,” on FaceBook operates in much the same way.  It’s a way of saying to others – and to ourselves – “Hey, I’m actually a deeply spiritual person.  See – I just posted a meme from Ram Dass or Thich Nhat Hanh or Pema Chodron.” And then our friends shine that right back at us and that fills that spirituality cubby hole.

Spirituality becomes a sort of a bon bon rather than a steady diet.  It’s something we post, not something we live.  It’s scratching an itch, rather than wondering why we’re itching to begin with.

I know that neither Ram Dass nor Thich Nhat Hanh would say, “Yeah, people are pretty much shallow assholes.”  I suspect they would say, “Yeah, there’s still a lot of work to do.  We need to get back on to our part of it.”

I’m finding a lot of comfort in a paradigm from the 1960s, which is that there are Old Souls and Young Souls.  If you’re an Old Soul, if you’ve been around the reincarnation cycle a few thousand times, then people like Thich Nhat Hanh resonate a lot more deeply in your heart than they might for a Young Soul.  This isn’t to say that being an Old Soul is somehow superior to or better than or wiser than a Young Soul.  It’s not an elitist trip.  It’s not a superiority trip.  It’s just being in a different place on the path.

The world seems to be awash in Young Souls right now and the best thing to do seems to be to constantly and consistently repeat that message from Ram Dass and Thich Nhat Hanh: love each other. 

Ironically, they’d both agree with the assessment of the Young Souls that their deaths didn’t really matter.  But their lives did.

Love each other.

Namaste’ Thich Nhat Hanh.